The Missionaries of the Gospel of Life: Activities and Spirituality

Introduction
 
Christ, now raised from the dead, will never die again; death has no more power over Him! (see Rom. 6:9).
From the beginning of Christianity, his disciples have proclaimed, “Christ is Risen!” and have thereby announced the end of the kingdom of death and the inauguration of the new People of Life, the Church, which is by God’s design to embrace all humanity into one family.
Because Jesus Christ is Life (see John 11:17-27; 14:1-6) and brings Life (see John 1:1-5; 10:7-15), His Gospel is the Gospel of Life. “The Gospel of God's love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel” (Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, n. 2)
 
The Church, called to invite and lead all people to salvation in Christ, proclaims and opens the door to that life which is eternal. The gift of eternal life, however, presupposes the natural gift of human life itself. In our day, this most basic good and most fundamental right is under unprecedented attack, particularly by abortion, which claims the most defenseless human victims, and in greater numbers than any other form of violence. It is the defense of the natural right to life that gives rise to our particular charism.
 
The People of Life understand that the command to “love one another” knows of no exceptions, and that no Christian can be indifferent to attacks on human life. Nourished by the Biblical call to rescue the vulnerable and defend the defenseless, many have committed themselves to defend the lives of the poorest of the poor – the unborn – and of others whose very right to life is denied. Many, moreover, feel called by God to do this work of justice on a full-time basis.
 
“Where life is involved, the service of charity must be profoundly consistent. It cannot tolerate bias and discrimination, for human life is sacred and inviolable at every stage and in every situation; it is an indivisible good” (EV, n.87). It is precisely that consistency that calls for a new Culture of Life, in which the unborn child is treated with the same care and protection as the born. The consistent ethic of life, properly understood, recognizes that some rights are more fundamental than others, and that life itself is the condition for all the rest.
 
Within the consistent ethic, we are pastors and servants to the unborn, a collective and visible voice for the voiceless millions who have been killed and are yet in danger of being killed by abortion. We call for the establishment of full recognition of their rights and protection of their lives. We do this fully realizing that without such recognition and protection, every noble effort to establish justice in the human community is undermined, every affirmation of human dignity is contradicted, and peace between families, communities and nations is threatened. As Pope John Paul II declared in Christifideles Laici, “…[T]he common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights -- for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture -- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition of all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination” (n.38) and as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said, “The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion” (Speech to National Prayer Breakfast, Washington DC, February 3, 1994).
 
God is therefore raising up in the Church priests and laity for whom the primary focus of their lives and spirituality is to restore recognition of the right to life where it is directly denied. This is a response to the call issued in Evangelium Vitae: “What is urgently called for is a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life. All together, we must build a new culture of life” (EV, n.95).
 
 
 
Maintaining the focus of the mission
 
Because the theme of “life” is so fundamental, it is also very broad, and is therefore subject to the possibility of becoming diluted or over-extended. The Missionaries of the Gospel of Life, as an Association and in the lives of its individual members, are always to maintain the clear focus of the Association on the defense of the unborn. There are other key “life issues” in which we specialize, but service to the unborn is always primary.
 
We understand and present the defense of the unborn and the vulnerable in the context of justice. Members will be eager, in their presentations and in the exercise of their ministry, to work to overcome the false division between “social justice” ministries and “right to life” ministries, ever mindful that the right to life is the core of social justice and impels the whole Church toward works of social justice. The Association will be particularly committed to fostering a proper understanding of the consistent ethic of life.
 
We foster esteem and active collaboration with other right to life organizations and with social justice ministries both within and outside the Church.
 
 
Aims of the Association
 
Missionaries of the Gospel of Life seek to give witness before the Church and the world to the priority of the right to life as the foundation of all other rights, and to the absolute claims to respect and protection that this right makes upon every individual and community in the human family. 
 
In that context, we seek to respond to the call to holiness, and live out our vocation concretely by striving:

In short, we minister to the unborn child and to the pro-life movement.
 
Because cultures and their laws change, the particular shape of the attacks on the right to life will change from generation to generation. However, as long as humanity exists, its youngest, most vulnerable members will always need care and protection, and those who bring them to birth will always need courage. Despite the legal status of abortion, which has been condemned from the beginning of the Church, the Association will always play a role in advocating for the unborn. Moreover, the Gospel of Christ will always be the Gospel of Life, and as direct attacks on the right to life take various forms throughout history, the Association will bear witness to the Gospel and summon believers to respond to its demands as the needs of the time require.
 
 
Means to Achieve our Aims
 
These goals are accomplished by traveling into local communities to strengthen the work of the Church as it relates to the right to life, to minister to the pro-life movement, and to reach out to the wider community by means of media and other forms of public outreach.
 
Our spirituality
 
The Missionaries of the Gospel of Life seek to grow in the likeness of Christ as they build a Culture of Life. To that end, our spirituality is marked by the following characteristics:

Biblical
The Word of Life, found in the pages of the Sacred Text, is to be a constant source of meditation and instruction, as well as the most frequently used pastoral tool for preaching and teaching. Members are to be intimately familiar with the pages of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, and are to always deepen their ability to articulate for the people the Biblical message about the sanctity of life, as it is found in every part of the Bible.

Prophetic
Counteracting the culture of death demands a prophetic spirituality. Our teaching is not our own, and like the prophets, we nurture the spirit of humility and awe that God should deign to speak His eternal word through mortal, sinful instruments like ourselves. Yet, as Jesus did, we teach “with authority,” because the Word we preach is His. The Gospel, always respectful of culture and expressing itself in diversified cultural contexts, likewise challenges and transforms culture. The prophet does not tell the future as much as he tells the present, that is, interprets for people what God says about what is going on in the world. We speak a word that is counter-cultural. It is a prophetic word that challenges society to recognize the unborn as brothers and sisters, and to therefore repent of practices and policies that destroy them or put them at risk.

Because prophets are always persecuted, and because the abortion issue is particularly volatile, we foster a particular attentiveness to accepting the inevitable reality of persecution. Rooted in the Beatitudes, we seek the spirit of the apostles who “rejoiced at having been counted worthy to suffer for the sake of the Name” (Acts 5:41).

Liturgical
We foster a liturgical spirituality that “thinks and feels” with the ebb and flow of the Church’s liturgical year. Our observance of liturgical seasons and feasts is carried out with a special attentiveness to the lessons those seasons and feasts present regarding the sanctity of life. The Association observes with special solemnity certain special feast days particularly associated with this theme and outlined in the Statutes.

Eucharistic
The Eucharist is Life itself, and therefore our spirituality is centered on the Bread of Life. The members will meditate frequently and preach often about the intimate links between our faith in the Eucharist and our commitment to the defense of life.

Ecumenical
Members share the deep longing of Christ that His disciples would be one, and we see in the Christian response to abortion one of the most practical and effective arenas for authentic ecumenical collaboration. We are ecumenical to the very fabric of our being, always thinking, speaking, and working in ways that welcome our brothers and sisters of other denominations. We also work in an inter-religious spirit, joining with people of good will from all religions.

Marian
The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, is a model for all mothers in her “Fiat” to the gift of life. Members of the Association foster a devotion to her and present her as a source of comfort, inspiration, and instruction to the faithful.

In the light of our spirituality, there are certain key virtues that we seek to foster in ourselves and others. These include:

A spirit of joy.
Life is joyful, and defending life is a mission that should be carried out with joy. We seek to foster, in ourselves and others, a “joyful sorrow,” that is, a spirit that is always mourning because of its keen awareness of the ongoing, unseen destruction of human life, and at the same time, is always serene and rejoicing that death has been conquered by Jesus Christ, who is Risen and is with us at all times.

A serene confidence.
“Have no fear. The outcome of the battle for life is already decided” (Pope John Paul II, Homily at World Youth Day, Denver, CO, August 15, 1993). We do, at the same time, have to work anxiously to be faithful to our own role in proclaiming, celebrating and serving that victory. Despite all outward appearances of the power of the culture of death, we foster, in ourselves and others, a supreme and uninterrupted confidence that the tools of grace with which God has equipped the People of Life are far more powerful and eternally victorious.

A deep compassion.
At times, we have all “aborted” God’s will in our lives. We never look down on those who have committed the sin of abortion or who promote it. They are not the enemy, but rather are captive to the enemy. We seek to free them, as their brothers and sisters who are no strangers to temptation, error, and sin.

This compassion is translated into a constant and effective invitation to the healing and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, and tireless efforts for the conversion of those who promote the culture of death. We also seek to assist those who have repented, including former abortionists, to re-integrate themselves into wholesome, life-giving activities and attitudes.

A radical solidarity
Pope John Paul II declared that the pro-life stance is one “of radical solidarity with the woman” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p.206-207). We do not seek to point fingers of condemnation, but rather to extend hands of mercy that lift out of despair those who are tempted to abort a child, or who endure the pain of having done so.

This radical solidarity stands at the same time with the child, in the awareness that it makes no sense to choose one against the other, but rather only to respond to mother and child by loving them both.

A strong courage
”The spirit God has given us is no cowardly spirit,” St. Paul tells Timothy (2Tim.1:7). Our work requires constant courage, which is nurtured at the feet of our Lord, in the pages of Scripture, in incessant prayer, and by the example of numerous saints and other historical figures who have fought against the injustices of their times.

A constant readiness for public witness.
We do not shrink from the public spotlight, which is often where we need to be in order to give voice to the voiceless and to reach the numbers of people we need to reach in the short time we have to reverse the culture of death. “Let your light shine before others,” the Lord said, always reminding us that the glory goes to the Father (see Mt.5:16). Members will form their spirit according to the plea of the Prophet, “Cry out full-throated and unsparingly; lift up your voice like a trumpet blast!” (Is.58:1).

A passion for justice.
The sacrifices needed to build a Culture of Life can only be sustained when there is a deep passion for justice. Christians believe in righteous anger, which was exhibited by the Lord and His saints in the face of evil. We are angry at what the culture of death does each day. We strive to submit our anger to the Holy Spirit of God, not asking Him to extinguish it but rather to channel it into a wholesome, energized passion which, always docile to the promptings of the Spirit and obedient to authority, sustains us in the task at hand. This is the basis for our total commitment to non-violence in the cause of life.

These associates participate in four overarching spiritual disciplines for personal formation, and to “flesh out” the spirituality and virtues of the Association. These disciplines are prayer, study, community, and witness.
 
 
 
Ministry Activities
 
The priests of the Association will participate in the various activities outlined below, often together with the lay Associates, in response to invitations they receive from dioceses, parishes, and pro-life organizations.

Parish visits – At the invitation of the local pastor, we visit parishes to preach the pro-life message at Masses, parish missions, or other parish gatherings in liturgical or educational settings. We meet with, train and strengthen local parish ministers in the pro-life dimensions of their work.

Assistance to clergy – We provide spiritual and practical assistance to the clergy of all denominations in the pro-life dimensions of their ministry.

Training seminars – We present training seminars about all aspects of the pro-life movement to priests, deacons, seminarians, laity, and ecumenical audiences.

Retreats – We offer pro-life retreats, which give participants an opportunity to see in their relationship with God the call to defend life, and to root all their pro-life activities in their relationship with God.

Presence at ministerial conferences – We are present, as members, participants, and exhibitors, at conferences at which specialists in different aspects of Church life and ministry gather. Our presence provides pro-life resources, networking and education to them.

Pro-life events – We participate in the events of local, national, and international pro-life organizations and Churches. We are invited to speak and pray at their conventions, banquets, seminars, prayer vigils, and abortion mill protests, to strategize with or minister to their members, and to provide a clerical presence where it is lacking. 

Alternatives to Abortion and Healing After Abortion – We foster, promote, and interact with the many ministries, both within and beyond the Catholic Church, that provide alternatives to abortion and healing after abortion. We assist the Churches to connect their congregations with such resources. Our priests assist directly in training and carrying out counseling both before and after abortion, and in conducting retreats for those wounded by abortion, including all the family members of the aborted child. We also minister to medical personnel and their assistants who previously performed the abortion procedure and have repented.

Media activity – We produce and appear on radio and television broadcasts for local, national, and international media outlets to articulate the pro-life message and comment upon developments relevant to it.

Fostering political responsibility – Through non-partisan activities, we assist Churches and pro-life organizations to mobilize, equip, and educate their people to carry out their political responsibilities. This includes such activities as voter registration, distribution of non-partisan voter guides, and get-out-the-vote drives.

Schools – We speak at schools of every level to deliver the pro-life message to students and to equip and encourage the faculty and administration in this dimension of their work.

Participation in leaders’ meetings – On a local, national, and international level, we participate in various meetings with leaders of all religious, political, and cultural backgrounds to develop strategy for the pro-life movement.
 
Individual counseling of members in government, media, and other leadership roles – We hold personal and confidential meetings with leaders to discuss their attitudes and actions regarding the right to life, and provide important opportunities for conversion, guidance, and encouragement.

Dialogue – We foster respectful dialogue with those who promote the Culture of Death, in such a way that, without compromising our message, we can enable them to realize that they too share in the dignity proper to every human life. By rediscovering their own dignity, they may be able to rediscover that of the unborn child.
We also promote that dialogue of salvation which the Church carries out with all who do not embrace the Christian faith or any faith at all. Many people of good will share our concern about the right to life, and we collaborate actively with them in its defense.
 


 
 
Liturgy and Prayer
 
Liturgical seasons and feasts

 
In accordance with its liturgical spirituality, the Association observes the seasons and feasts of the Church calendar, drawing from all of them the insights they bring regarding the sanctity of human life. There are certain liturgical days which are particularly suited to the Association’s focus on the centrality of the gift of life, and its special commitment to the unborn. We assist others to study the meaning of these feasts and celebrate them in their local communities with a pro-life focus.
 

Easter, the primary feast day for the entire Church, is especially appropriate as the Association’s primary feast day, because it is the Day of the Victory of Life. The Easter Triduum is celebrated with special care and meditation on the implications for building a Culture of Life.
 
The Annunciation (March 25) is observed with special joy as the feast on which God became an unborn child, thus sanctifying all life in the womb as he sanctified it at every stage. In the same manner, we celebrate Christmas with a deep awareness that it is the feast of the Incarnation, and therefore inherently proclaims the truth of the sanctity of all human life.
 
The Immaculate Conception (December 8) likewise carries the clear message of God’s relationship with human life at its earliest stages, and the Association celebrates this feast with that truth in mind.
 
The Holy Family is celebrated shortly after Christmas. The family is the sanctuary of life, and the Association draws from this feast a renewed commitment to defend and promote strong families.
 
St. Joseph (March 19), the “Just Man,” who had the role of protecting the Holy Family, embodies the example for all fathers to follow. The lack of willingness of the father of an unborn child is frequently the cause of abortion. Honoring St. Joseph and teaching the faithful his example can inspire men to carry out their proper role in defending life.
 
The Holy Innocents are honored every December 28, and the Association will mark this day with special memorials to the countless innocents slain by abortion.
 
Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose image brought about an end to the practice of human sacrifice among the Aztecs, is the Patroness of the Unborn. On her feast day, December 12, we commend to her care all unborn children and those who defend them.
 
Other particularly significant feasts on the calendar of saints include:
 
April 13 – Blessed Margaret of Castello, OP, Patron of the Unwanted
 
April 28 – St. Gianna Beretta Molla, who gave her life for her unborn child. Patron of Mothers and Physicians.
 
September 5 – (Blessed) Mother Teresa of Calcutta
 
October 5 – St. Mary Faustina Kowalska, Patron Saint of Mercy, who was given the Chaplet of Divine Mercy to pray in particular in reparation for abortion.
 
October 16 – St. Gerard Majella, Patron Saint of Pregnant Mothers and of Childbirth.

Personal Prayer
 
In the recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, pro-lifers should keep in mind the historical and intrinsic connection between this devotion and the need to invoke God’s mercy for the sin of abortion, as revealed in the Diary of St. Faustina. It is also helpful to keep in mind the special Apostolic Blessing of Pope John Paul II for those who say the chaplet for this particular intention.
 
In their daily prayers and Masses, members should keep in their intentions the benefactors of the Association and the many prayer intentions that are sent in from the general public, especially those related to women tempted to abort, to families who have lost children to abortion, and to aborted babies themselves.
 
Priests of the Association are to offer Mass regularly for the intention of an end to abortion and euthanasia. Likewise, Masses for the intentions and mission of the Association, and for its benefactors and their intentions, are to be offered frequently.
 
Because our Association serves the Church in all dimensions of its pro-life mission, including prayer, members are encouraged to compose prayers related to the right to life. Many of these prayers may prove useful for pastors and group leaders as they serve their people.
 
 
Study and Reading
 
The teachings that shape the life and mission of our Association come above all from the Word of God as found in Scripture and Tradition, and safeguarded and taught by the Magisterium of the Church. Among the documents of the Magisterium, we give primary emphasis to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), for which the Association is named. We see John Paul II as the Pope of Life, and his encyclical, as well as the witness of his life, lay out the contours of our mission and spirituality.
 
The teachings and example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, a strong voice for the unborn and vulnerable, are a special source of instruction and inspiration for us. In her meetings with Fr. Frank Pavone, Mother Teresa provided personal input and encouragement to the work of Priests for Life.
 
We also study and promote the educational materials provided by Fr. Frank Pavone and his pastoral team.
 
We gather for our library all materials published on the topic of abortion by those who oppose it and by those who support it, and study this material. We also gather and make available to the public any pro-life statements by bishops’ conferences or individual bishops anywhere in the world.
 
 
 
Membership in the Association
 
 
 Lay persons who are already members of another Association may also join our Lay Associates program, as long as the demands of both programs are not contradictory.
 
The National Coordinator for the Lay Associates sees to it that regular communication occurs between the Association and those training for and accepted as Lay Associates. The Coordinator will make recommendations to the National Director for the acceptance of Lay Associates, who will then make their profession of promises in the presence of one of the clerical members of the Association. The National Director may allow a Lay Associate to make his or her promises in the presence of another priest (such as a pastor or spiritual director of the associate’s choosing).
 
In the course of their travels, members of our Pastoral Team will meet with the lay associates throughout the nation. The Coordinator will likewise see to it that they are given information about specific pro-life projects and priorities in which they will be encouraged to participate in accordance with their individual circumstances.
 
  
 
The Structure of the Association within the Body of Christ
 
In Communion with the Church
 
The Association does not seek to replace existing structures in the Church or the wider society that are engaged in the pro-life mission, but rather to infuse them with renewed vigor and effectiveness. Where it is appropriate, our teams of priests, deacons, and laity will assist in the building of local efforts and the training of those who carry out those efforts.
 
There are many priests, deacons and laity in the Church who do pro-life work. Our mission is neither to take their work from them nor to claim that we do it better, but rather to encourage them in that work and help it to flourish. For us, however, pro-life work is not merely an assignment or one aspect of ministry. It is, rather, a life’s work, a vocation within a vocation. We have the support of a community whose members are committed to a distinctive common mission around the nation.
 
The Association carries out its work in collaboration with each local diocese, seeking to advance the pastoral plans that have already been developed by the local diocese to meet its particular needs regarding the pro-life mission.
 
At the same time, we provide to local efforts a national perspective, and the benefit of our experience in developing strategies and networking with all the existing resources of the pro-life movement. We bring these new resources to the local diocese, so that a fruitful process of dialogue, mutual learning and encouragement, and growth in effectiveness may occur.
 
The Proper Relationship of Clergy and Laity
 
The priests and deacons of our Association recognize that the laity are called to defend human life by their very humanity, and participate in the Gospel witness to life by virtue of their baptism and confirmation. The laity have a particular call to sanctify the temporal order. We seek, therefore, not to replace the work of the laity but rather to foster it. We assist all priests to recognize and “stir into flame” the gifts that the Spirit generously bestows upon the lay faithful.
 
The clergy in our association are pastors to the pro-life movement. Our mission is to awaken consciences to the need to defend life, and once they are awakened, to provide ongoing motivation, inspiration, teaching, and guidance. Through our ministry, the lay faithful, in their pro-life activity, will constantly nourish themselves at the source of this activity – the Lord and Giver of Life – and through their activity will always return to Him as the ultimate goal of all human effort.
 
Our Promises
 
One joins the Association by means of the profession of two promises, namely,

-- commitment to the defense of the right to life, and
-- availability for the mission of the Association.

The promises are directed toward both the interior commitment to justice and charity which embraces our weakest brothers and sisters in the name of the Lord, and to the external fulfillment of the demands of those virtues. The external activity that is promised is always to be a fruit of the interior life which members are committed to pursue.
 
Profession of the promises of the Association is made in the presence of the National Director or his appointed delegate.
 
The formula of promises for the lay associates shall be as follows:

"I, _____________, in the presence of God the Father, the Creator of all Life, Jesus Christ the Son, the Resurrection and the Life, and the Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of Life, in the presence of Father ________ (National Director) and of this gathering of the People of Life, do joyfully promise, for the rest of my life, to live as a Lay Missionary of the Gospel of Life. I promise to defend my brothers and sisters whose right to life is under direct attack, and to be, especially for the unborn, the voice they do not have. . I promise to pursue union with God in all things, and holiness of life which will foster my love for the weakest among us. I further promise to engage in pro-life work, according to the spirituality and virtues of the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life, and to collaborate with their work to the best of my ability and within the context of my own vocation. I am confident that the Victory of Life has already been won through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, and as the Church proclaims, celebrates, and serves the Gospel of Life, Christ will transform the Culture of Death into the Culture of Life."